US 4961434 A
The invention provides an array of electrodes, suitable for use as an auditory prosthesis. The array comprises an electrode body formed from an electrically insulating flexible material, preferably at least one annulus of an electrically insulating flexible material which is formed separately from the body and adhered thereto, at least one electrode positioned concentrically about each of the at least one annulus or electrode body, with the surface of each electrode being recessed and being exposed. The invention also provides a method for fabricating such an electrode array.
1. An electrode array for stimulating tissue in an animal body, comprising:
an elongated electrode body formed from an electrically insulating flexible material;
a second electrically insulating flexible material covering at least a portion of said body, said second material having at least one contact well formed therein and said second material formed separately of said body and at least partially adhered thereto;
at least one electrode positioned concentrically about said contact well having a recessed outer surface, said at least one electrode being disposed between said electrode body and said second material; and
said outer surface of said at least one electrode being exposed and adapted to make electrical contact with said tissue when the electrode array is implanted in said animal body.
2. An electrode array as in claim 1 wherein said electrode body is a tapered elongated body having a circular cross-section.
3. An electrode array as in claim 1 wherein said second material is disposed at two regions about said body, said second material having a contact well formed in each of said regions, and wherein said at least one electrode comprises a pair of electrodes, a first of said pair of electrodes being positioned in a first of said regions, and a second of said pair of electrodes being positioned in a second of said regions.
4. An electrode array as in claim 3 wherein said two regions, said contact wells and said at least one pair of electrodes are diametrically opposed about said electrode body.
5. An electrode array as in claim 1, wherein said electrode body is formed from an elastomeric material.
6. An electrode array as in claim 1 wherein said at least one electrode has a convex contact surface and a concave underside.
7. An electrode as in claim 1 wherein said electrode body and said second material are formed from an elastomeric material.
8. An electrode as in claim 1 wherein said second material covers substantially all of said electrode body.
9. An electrode as claimed in claim 1, wherein said second material is a sheet which tapers in thickness as distance from said contact well increases.
10. An electrode as claimed in claim 1, wherein said second material is formed in the shape of an annulus surrounding said contact well.
11. An electrode as claimed in claim 1; wherein said electrode has an inner surface in contact with said body, said second material being free of direct contact with said body where said inner surface contacts said body.
This invention relates to an array of electrodes, particularly to an auditory prosthesis having an array of radially oriented bipolar pairs of electrodes.
Electrical stimulation of auditory nerve fibers in persons with total sensory deafness has been found to produce auditory sensations which can be perceived with sufficient familiarity, that with minimal training such sensations can be used for speech reception without additional cues. Electrical stimulation of the auditory nerve fibers in deaf patients is accomplished in a number of methods. Many methods of stimulating the auditory nerve fibers utilize an array of electrodes mounted in a flexible worm-like carrier which is inserted into the cochlea of a patient's ear.
Because the human cochlea has a snail-like configuration, two basic mechanical designs have existed for intracochlear electrodes. The first design has a shape which matches the coiled structure of the human cochlea. A prosthesis of this design is temporarily straightened before insertion and regains its coiled shape upon insertion in the cochlea. The second design is a straight prosthesis which is very flexible, but which has sufficient stiffness to be guided into the cochlea in the desired coiled shape. The straight flexible configuration is often preferred. See Hochmair-Desoyer et al., Design and Fabrication of Multi-Wire Scala Tympani Electrodes, Vol. 405, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, pp. 173-182.
The straight flexible auditory prosthesis will typically have an array of electrodes positioned in one of a number of various configurations along the length of the prosthesis. These various configurations include monopolar and bipolar pairs of electrodes, which pairs may be positioned either radially or longitudinally along the flexible prosthesis. See Loeb et al., Design and Fabrication of an Experimental Cochlear Prosthesis, Medical & Biological Engineering and Computing, May 1983, Vol. 21, pp. 241-254; Clark et al., A Cochlear Implant Round Window Electrode Array, The Journal of Laryngology and Otology, Feb. 1979, Vol. 93, pp. 107-109.
An auditory prosthesis having a radial bipolar configuration appears to be the most favorable electrode geometry for the multiple electrode array. See, van den Honert et al., Single Fiber Mapping of Spacial Excitation Patterns in the Electrically Stimulated Auditory Nerve, Hearing Research, 29 (1987) pp. 195-206.
In addition to having a radial bipolar configuration, it is desirable that the array of electrodes have a large surface area with individual electrodes having a surface area of greater than 0.25 mm.sup.2. Further, the electrodes should have a decreased mass and volume so as to provide the desired mechanical characteristics to the prosthesis. The flexible prosthesis should also be capable of being easily fabricated.
Previous constructions have included so-called flame balls which are made by melting the ends of platinum or platinum iridium wires. Known practical flame ball constructions have longitudinal configurations as the volume of the flame balls does not permit radially placed electrodes. Another known configuration is that of electrode rings, which again are longitudinally spaced apart. Other known configurations include a mushroom shaped electrode having an outer domed surface approximating the surface of a flame ball protruding above the surface of the electrode body and with an inner stem anchoring the outer surface to the array. It is very difficult to place these electrodes radially, and, further, the large internal volume of the electrodes necessary to anchor them is undesirable.
Therefore, there is a need for an array of electrodes used, for example, as a flexible auditory prosthesis, which is easy to fabricate, which has recessed electrodes with little internal volume, providing a surface of the prosthesis which is very smooth, consisting of an electrically insulating flexible material. In addition, there is a need for such an array having a plurality of radially positioned electrodes.
The invention provides an electrode array suitable for use, for example, as an auditory prosthesis, the electrode array comprising an electrode body formed from an electrically insulating flexible material, at least one electrode, preferably a pair of electrodes, positioned concentrically about the electrode body, the outer surface of each electrode being recessed and exposed. Preferably the electrodes are positioned on said electrode body through an electrically insulating, flexible annulus, preferably annuli, formed separately from the electrode body and adhered thereto.
The electrodes are preferably made from a metal foil having a convex contact surface and a concave underside. The body and the annuli are preferably made from an elastomeric material. The body preferably has a cylindrical or tapered cylinder configuration.
The invention also provides a method for fabricating an electrode array suitable for use, for example, as an auditory prosthesis, comprising the steps of (a) providing an injection molding mold having a molding cavity and at least one vacuum hole through the wall of one half of the mold; (b) providing an electrode for each vacuum hole, preferably formed from an electrically conductive foil and having a convex contact surface; (c) forming an annulus of an electrically insulating flexible material about each vacuum hole to create a contact well around each of the holes; (d) positioning an electrode over each of the wells; (e) applying a vacuum to each of the vacuum holes to hold the electrodes in place over the wells; (f) fastening the mold halves together and molding the body of the electrode array structure from an electrically insulating flexible material, whereby the annuli and the electrodes are adhered to the body; and (g) removing the electrode array from the mold whereby an electrode array with at least one electrode is provided.
The invention also includes forming the contact wells of step (c) by providing a layer or sheet of electrically insulating material along the walls of the molding cavity and forming a contact well around each vacuum hole.
FIG. 1 is a top view of one-half of a mold used in a method of the present invention showing three steps of the method;
FIG. 2 is a cross-section along line 2-2 of FIG. 1;
FIG. 3 is a cross-section along line 3-3 of FIG. 1 showing a layer of flexible material placed in the mold around a vacuum hole;
FIG. 4 is a cross-section along line 4-4 of FIG. 1 showing an electrode being inserted over a contact well formed in the layer of flexible material;
FIG. 5 is a cross-section of two halves of the mold showing the contact wires;
FIG. 6 is a partial perspective view of an electrode array of the present invention;
FIG. 7 is a cross-section along 7-7 of FIG. 6;
FIG. 8 is a cross-section similar to FIG. 3, showing the preferred embodiment of the invention;
FIG. 9 is a cross-section similar to FIG. 4, showing the preferred embodiment of the invention; and
FIG. 10 is a flow chart of a preferred method of the present invention.
Referring to FIG. 1, a portion of one half of a mold used to make an electrode array of one embodiment of the present invention is shown. In practice, the preferred embodiment would contain, for example, ten pairs of radially positioned electrodes, and therefore, a mold such as shown in FIG. 1 would have ten holes in each side of the mold.
In FIG. 1 there is a mold 10 having a plurality of vacuum holes 12 and a molding cavity 14 which is tapered towards one end of the mold. The three holes 12, shown in FIG. 1, each represent a different step in the method for fabrication of a flexible electrode array of the invention.
FIG. 2 depicts a cross-section of the cylindrical or tapered cylinder molding cavity 14 and a vacuum hole 12 prior to any step of the method of the invention.
Referring to FIG. 3, a layer of an electrically insulating flexible material 16 is placed around the vacuum hole 12 along the walls of the molding cavity 14. The flexible material 16 may be thinned with a suitable solvent and then placed in the molding cavity 14. When the solvent evaporates, the thin flexible sheet 16 remains.
Referring to FIG. 4, a contact well 18 is formed in the thin flexible sheet 16. The contact well 18 is in alignment with the vacuum hole 12. A vacuum is drawn through the hole 12 and well 18 and an electrode 20 is positioned above the well 18 and held in place by vacuum. The electrode 20 has a concave surface 21 and a convex contact surface 22. Contact wires 23 are joined, preferably by welding, to the concave surface 21 of the electrode 20. The contact surface 22 is then positioned with the surface 22 facing toward the well 18.
Referring to FIGS. 5 and 7, the two molds 10 having the flexible sheet 16 and electrode 20 positioned within the opposing sides of the mold cavities 14 are shown. The body 24 is injection molded with the same or another flexible electrically insulating material and the sheet 16 and the electrode 20 are adhered to the body 24 as best shown in FIG. 7. The finished electrode array 30, FIGS. 6 and 7, is removed from the mold 10 and an electrode array 30 having radially placed contacts is provided.
Referring now to FIGS. 8 and 9, cross-sections similar to FIGS. 3 and 4 of a preferred embodiment of the invention are shown. In FIG. 8 an annulus 40 formed from an electrically insulating flexible material is provided around the vacuum hole 12 along the walls of the molding cavity 14. The annulus 40 includes a contact well 42. In FIG. 9 an electrode 44 is postioned concentrically with the annulus 40.
Referring now to FIG. 10, a preferred method of the present invention is described. A mold as described above having two halves is provided and one-half of the mold is heated (50). Next, an annulus is applied around each of the vacuum holes (52). An electrode with a contact wire attached is positioned over one of the annuli and a vacuum is applied through the vacuum holes (54). The electrode is tacked into place with an elastomeric material (56) and then the entire perimeter of the electrode is sealed with an elastomeric material (58). Next, steps 54, 56 and 58 are repeated for each electrode, aligning the contact wires longitudinally in the mold (60). Next steps 52-60 are repeated for the second half of the mold. The two halves of the mold are then put together (62) and the body of the array of electrodes is injection molded (64).
The material which is used to form the annuli or the sheet and the material molded to make the body of the electrode, is a flexible electrically insulating material, which is preferably elastomeric. Because electrode arrays of this type can be used as an auditory prosthesis which is inserted into the ear, the flexible material is more preferably a medical grade elastomeric material.
It is preferred that the annuli or sheet and the electrode body be made from the same flexible material for simplicity in fabrication and to aid in adhesion between the two layers. Preferred medical grade elastomers which may be utilized in the invention are silicone rubbers of the Silastic elastomers, commercially available from Dow-Corning Medical Products, Midland, MI. Silastic Silastic electrically insulative, flexible, medical-grade elastomeric materials. These materials are essentially non-toxic, non-irritating, non-sensitizing and can be placed in contact with skin or other tissues without producing adverse effects. In addition, these elastomeric materials are dimensionally and thermally stable, resistant to oxidation and sunlight, and do not become hard with age.
The Silastic liquids, namely, an opaque viscous elastomeric base and a catalyst. Silastic be comprised of polydimethylsiloxane and silica filler. The catalyst is said to be a specially tested grade of stannousoctoate. When mixed together the Silastic approximately 10 minutes and vulcanization is complete is about 30 minutes. The working and vulcanization times may be varied by changing the amount of catalyst.
Silastic high strength clean grade silicone rubber which cures at room temperature. Silastic base material in an approximate ratio of one part of curing agent to 10 parts by weight of the base material. Curing sufficient for handling of the material occurs in about 24 hours at 23 C, with full cure achieved in about three days at room temperature. Curing may be accelerated by increasing the temperature.
It is desirable that the flexible material have sufficient tensile strength to provide the desired flexibility to the finished prosthesis to allow for insertion into the cochlea. Other medical grade elastomeric materials having suitable flexibility and the other desired properties can also be used.
The electrodes used in the present invention are preferably formed from platinum or platinum-iridium foil having a thickness typically ranging from 1 maximum diameter of about 0.75 mm are punched from the foil, preferably at least a portion of the contact is formed into a convex shape, preferably approximating the shape of the mold. Other material having suitable flexibility, thinness, electrical conductivity and tissue compatibility may also be used.
In addition to the elastomeric material and the foil electrode material, the electrode arrays include contact wires. The contact wires are typically Teflon diameters typically ranging from 1 cm. These wires are welded to the individual electrodes typically on the inside or concave portion of the electrodes, as shown in FIG. 5.
The electrode arrays of the invention may be fabricated by first spreading a thin layer of the flexible material, preferably a Silastic grade elastomer from Dow-Corning, on the inside of the mold cavity. The Silastic solvent prior to coating on the inside of the molding cavity. Suitable solvents, such as xylene, thin the elastomeric material for uniform application. In addition, when the solvent evaporates, a suitable layer of the elastomeric material is provided in a concave configuration along the walls of the molding cavity (see FIG. 3). To achieve the desired thickness of the layer, the ratio of the solvent to elastomeric material can be varied to precisely determine the thickness of the resultant sheet.
It is preferable to provide an annulus of elastomeric material around the perimeter of the vacuum holes to provide contact wells. If instead of an annulus a sheet of flexible material is provided, contact wells must be formed in the sheet. The wells may simply be punched out with, for example, a sharpened hypodermic needle. Another way to produce the wells is by applying a vacuum to the mold before the elastomeric material is fully cured or set, thereby drawing the elastomeric material from the contact well out through the vacuum hole. Regardless of the method, it is desirable to produce a clean sharp hole (contact well) through the thin layer of elastomeric material.
Once the annulus of elastomeric material is in place, or the contact well is formed, the electrodes themselves are placed in position. As described above, these electrodes are preferably made from platinum or platinum-iridium foil. The electrodes are welded to the appropriate lead or contact wires, preferably made of a thin Teflon polymer (registered trademark of Dupont) coated platinum-iridium wire. The contacts are placed over the contact wells and are held in place by means of vacuum pressure. Because the platinum foil is preferably relatively soft, the contacts can be further formed into place by gentle pressure.
It is preferred that the mold be heated before the annuli are positioned about the vacuum holes. Heating the mold provides a more flowable material to give a smooth surface to the annuli. The temperature of the mold is preferably set so the flexible material cures in one-three minutes. The temperature of the mode is typically set between 25 and 120 C, preferably about 80 C to 100 C.
It may also be desirable to tack the electrodes into place with additional elastomeric material, which may also be thinned with solvent, as desired. The electrode may also be sealed into place by placing additional elastomeric material around the perimeter of the electrode. The elastomeric material is then allowed to cure or dry.
This process is repeated for each of the contacts in each of the pair of molds. Typically 1 to 10 electrodes are provided in each half of the mold for a total of 1 to 10 pairs of preferably radially placed electrodes.
The dimensions of the array of electrodes is dictated by its intended use. The electrodes themselves should be dimensioned and positioned so as to not contact or short-out a neighboring electrode. An array of electrodes used as an auditory prosthesis in a human cochlea would be dimensioned to fit into the human cochlea which has an average length (unwound) of about 32 mm. The average length of an auditory prosthesis array typically may range from 15 to 25 mm. The array is an elongate body having a radial cross-section which is preferably circular or oval to fit snuggly in the cochlea. The individual electrodes may be spaced from almost touching to 15 to 25 mm apart, typically with about 1-2 mm center-to-center spacing. The auditory prosthesis is tapered with the narrow end inserted first. The narrow or tip diameter may typically range from about 0.2 mm to 0.8 mm with the wide end ranging from about 1 to 2 mm, with 1.0 to 1.4 being preferred. The vacuum holes on the mold used to make an auditory prosthesis are typically on the order of 0.3 to 0.5 mm. The size of the annulus would typically be 0.5 mm diameter round to about 0.5 to 0.75 mm eliptical.
The thickness of the annuli or sheet of flexible material determining the depth the electrode is recessed from the surface of the electrode array is about 10% to less than 50% of the minimum diameter of the electrode body, and preferably about 25%. For example, if the tip of the prosthesis has a diameter of 0.5 mm the electrodes are preferably recessed about 0.125 mm throughout the length of the prosthesis.
The two mold halves are then fastened together so that the electrodes form pairs of preferably diametrically opposed, radially spaced electrodes. The body of the electrode array is molded from an electrically insulative flexible material, preferably an elastomeric material, typically the same material which was used to form the annuli or sheet on the perimeter of the mold. The body is then preferably injection molded, preferably at room temperature.
The cure of the flexible material can be hastened by placing the mold in an oven after molding at an elevated temperature for a desired period of time. The electrode is removed from the mold by carefully removing one half the mold at a time and trimming any excess flexible material away from the edges of the electrode with a sharpened device. Also, any flexible material which is covering the contact surface is carefully removed.
The electrical properties of the electrode are then tested.